In a world of online gaming, rarely does an unbalanced character go unfixed for longer than a couple months. So how do you take an underpowered character from a game built more than a decade ago, before the always online era, and transform it into something worthy of attention?
Just ask Michael “Nintendude” Brancato, Super Smash Bros Melee player for Splyce. Nintendude is currently the highest-ranked Ice Climbers player in the world and showing that there is definitely room to play the characters you love.
“I think they are a viable character,” Nintendude said at DreamHack Austin earlier this month. “You still get Ice Climbers in top eights all the time! I think there is just no Ice Climbers player that is as good as the gods, just as a player. I think there is definitely room for secondaries for Ice Climbers players. Ice Climbers players are traditionally solo mains. I’m trying to work on some stuff on the side, but I don’t feel comfortable bringing it out yet. But I would never drop Ice Climbers.”
So how, exactly, does an objectively worse character and an objectively worse player take games and sets off the best in the world? Ice Climbers sits as the seventh best character in Melee,according to one tier list, and perhaps only sits that high thanks to a game mechanic known as “Wobbling,” by which Ice Climbers can infinitely grab the other character, provided they are both still alive. Although some characters have the ability to chain grab others based on a number of circumstances, there is always some sort of two-way input outside of the wobble. Many people despise the mechanic, but it can be used to great effect and still requires an impressive amount of technical skill to pull off cleanly. As with anything, sometimes mob mentality takes over.
“I think wobbling is objectively more boring and I think it is a bad gameplay mechanic,” Nintendude said. “It is kind of a lame thing but it is part of the character and the fact is Ice Climbers is not a top-tier character even with it, so I don’t see why people complain about it so much.”
Nintendude finished within the top eight at DreamHack Austin and most recently had a round of 24 exit from Get On My Level in Toronto last weekend. Competing with Nintendude for the honor of top Ice Climbers player in the world is the appropriately named Robert “Wobbles” Wright. With several impressive placings this year, including fourth at Battle of the Five Gods in March, Wobbles is on the heels of Nintendude for the top spot. Wobbles was eighth in Melee It On Me’s 2013 world rankings and will surely look to regain that stature amid increasingly difficult competition.
These two men have now proven that no one can sleep on the Ice Climbers of the world. Nintendude alluded to the fact that there just aren’t any Ice Climbers players with the base skill level of the gods to take Ice Climbers to the next level. For Nintendude, it isn’t about changing up the play style against the best in the world. It is just getting tighter and cleaner in the execution.
“I hate losing to M2K honestly, because his Peach is still not very good, he is just a really good player,” Nintendude said. “He is always trying to play the matchup. He will always pick certain character for a certain matchup. I don’t like losing to him. Peach is a very winnable matchup and a lot of things she does are very punishable, just the timings on it are really tight. Because it’s Peach, if you miss a timing very slightly you get messed up for it.”
Playing that tight consistently is difficult, especially being on the road all the time with so little time to practice.
“There is very much a saturation of tournaments right now so people have to be selective about where they go.” Nintendude said about the low turnout for DreamHack. “The local scene here isn’t quite as big as in other places and everyone is already committed to Get On My Level in a couple of weeks and EGLX last weekend, so I think it was just sandwiched in between too many majors.”
Tempo Storm player Jeffery “Axe” Williamson also talked about the demanding amount of tournaments earlier this month at EGLX. Nintendude doesn’t seem phased by the higher number of tournaments, as he has been able to choose his tournaments wisely this year, only competing in four since the year started.
With the increased amount of tournaments and continually improving level of competition in Melee, Nintendude and Wobbles are going to need some help if they are to make a push for a major victory. Wobbles used an extremely important match against Axe at Dreamhack to test his skills outside of wobbling. He played the entire set without taking any free stocks from Axe. In a four game set Wobbles had at least half a dozen opportunities to take a free stock away and instead chose to fight free of his namesake.
Despite the polarizing nature of Ice Climbers, the players still have plenty of fans. Nintendude was interrupted twice during his interview to sign various items for fans and Wobbles was approached several times on Sunday for selfies and signatures from more adoring fans. They have mastered the character and won the fans. The next step is winning the tournaments.
Cover photo: Blake Bottrill